Best Winter Destinations in the United States
Do you embrace winter when you travel or are you trying to escape the frigid temperatures as long as possible? I feel like winter gets a bad rap. Sure, it’s cold, but freshly blanketed trails and snow capped mountains are so gorgeous. If you dress appropriately and have plenty of snow to play on then you’re bound to have a good time.
From downhill skiing to dreamy winter wonderland photo ops, to cozy cafes and pubs, there is a lot to love about winter vacations in the United States. Since there is a few months left of winter, I got together with some expert travel bloggers to bring you 16 of the best and most beautiful winter destinations to experience in the USA.
Jennifer Dombrowski & Tim Davis of Luxe Adventure Traveler
Whitefish, Montana is one of the best winter destinations you can visit in the US. Whitefish isn't just for skiers, but if you are a skier, Whitefish Mountain Resort is the second largest ski resort in Montana and world-class. With 105 ski runs, there's terrain suitable for any level of skier or snowboarder.
You don't just have to be a whiz on the slopes to enjoy Whitefish. There's plenty of other outdoor adventures for the non-skier like guided snowshoe hikes in Glacier National Park where you might be lucky to spot some of the winter wildlife, dog sledding day trips or even fat biking or a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the forest.
Foodies will love Whitefish, too, and a meal prepared by the James Beard award-winning chef at Cafe Kandahar shouldn't be missed. The 11-course wine pairing chef's menu is something of a legend and every dish is exquisite.
Recommended by Melissa Downham of The Roaming Family
When it comes to quintessential winter destinations, it doesn’t get much better than Telluride, Colorado. This small mountain town is an authentic gold mining town, tucked into a box canyon in the San Juan Mountains.
Unlike many ski resorts around the United States, Telluride wasn’t built to be a ski resort. The tiny town was discovered in 1878 when miners struck gold, and has been in existence ever since. The Telluride historic district is listed in the National Register of Historical Places.
Aside from world class skiing, Telluride offers its visitors snowmobiling, snowshoeing, sleigh rides, dogsledding, ice climbing and sledding.
Visit the ice rink outside the Madeline Hotel in Mountain Village for some family fun. Afterwards, grab a hot chocolate at the Black Iron Kitchen outdoor area and people watch by the fire. Don’t forget to visit Dylan’s Candy Bar for some old fashioned candy.
Down in the historic district of Telluride, lunch at Brown Dog Pizza is a must for any visit. And a visit to the historic New Sheridan Hotel is worth a drink and dinner at Chop House. The bar in new Sheridan is a former hangout for Butch Cassidy, which will thrill any “Old West” historian. We have been to Telluride 4 times and we continue to return!
Traverse City, Michigan
Recommended by Natasha Alden of The World Pursuit
Northern Michigan is one of the best winter destinations in the US to visit. There are so many cute towns to visit and enjoy nature, but my favorite would have to be Traverse City. Traverse City is where many people go shopping in the Grand Traverse Bay Area. The streets here are lined with blocks of cute shops and delicious places to eat. In the summer the town is well known for their Michigan cherries - Michigan is where almost 3/4 of Americans cherries are grown!
However in the winter people come here to be outside and enjoy a sleigh ride through the streets. Or pop into the vintage and historic state movie theatre to warm up. Afterward one of my favorite things to do is head into a craft brewery - Michigan makes some great beers!
If you want to have an active holiday try skiing or snowboarding at the nearby Shanty Creek Resorts. This is where you can also go snowshoeing or cross-country skiing in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park. During the last weekend of February, you can also get some serious eats on in the best restaurants at the Traverse City Restaurant Week!
Recommended by Jennifer Melroy of National Park Obsessed
Winter in Alaska comes fast and stays long. Nowhere is this more prevalent than Fairbanks, Alaska. Fairbanks is the 3rd largest city in Alaska and 200 miles below the Arctic Circle. Due to the almost 22 hours of darkness at height of winter, this small city may not be the most inviting place. BUT Fairbanks is a special winter destination. Fairbanks’s location makes it a perfect base to explore Northern Alaska during winter. You have many options such as taking a snow machine tour (and maybe see some moose that hang out near the trail), cross-country skiing, or winter ice fishing. Exploring the Museum of the North is a great way to learn more about Alaskan culture and history. The real highlight of Fairbanks is her Northern Lights viewing. With all that darkness, you have plenty of dark hours to see the northern lights.
If a real adventure suits you fancy, take a tour up the famed Ice Road and visit the small town of Coldfoot for even better northern light viewing plus a chance to stand on the frozen Yukon River. After you have gotten cold, visit the very eco-friendly Chena Hot Springs Resort get to thaw out before heading home.
Enjoy the taste of Alaska in a historic building at the Pump House Restaurant.
Recommended by Emily of Em’s on the Road
Just an hour north of Milwaukee, Wisconsin is the little village of Kohler, Wisconsin and the national headquarters of the Kohler company. Kohler has transformed into the coziest winter resort destination thanks to the Kohler Company.
Kohler transformed its original boarding house for international workers into a historic boutique hotel, The American Club Resort, complete with multiple restaurants, cozy library sitting room and bar, and greenhouse turned coffee shop. Spend your days snowshoeing through private trails, playing ice bowling in the courtyard, or relaxing at the award-winning Kohler Waters Spa. If you want to get a jump on planning your next holiday vacation, entire resort is decked out with holiday trimmings in December. If you’re looking for a romantic getaway for Valentine’s Day in the Midwest, this is THE place.
You can even visit their design center and create your own dream kitchen and bathroom. If that’s not in your budget, visit the unique exhibit of Kohler through the years and peruse incredible kitchen and bath designs by some of the top designers from around the world for inspiration.
Recommended by Kris of Nomad by Trade
Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada mountains, is one of the best winter destinations in the United States. The lake is surrounded by excellent ski resorts and you can take a break from the many world class runs to enjoy spectacular views of the blue water of the lake. One of Lake Tahoe's most storied ski resorts, Squaw Valley, even hosted an Olympics competition in 1960. Skiers and snowboarders can tackle some of the runs that competitions were held on or tour a museum about the games for a break from the cold. Since the ski resorts can get as much as 500 inches of snow each winter - over 40 feet! - the chances of fresh powder are high and the ski season can stretch all the way into May for an extended winter.
Even if skiing and snowboarding aren't your thing, you can still take part in the Apres Ski atmosphere at the many restaurants and bars located at the bases of resorts like Heavenly and Squaw. You can also take a scenic drive along the lake to enjoy the contrast of the white snow against the bright blue water of Lake Tahoe. Make sure you have snow chains handy though as icy road conditions often require them.
Asheville, North Carolina
Recommended by Paige of For the Love of Wanderlust
Asheville, North Carolina is a a beautiful destination for any time of year, but there’s something extra cozy and special about it in the winter. Because of its location nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, you’ll often get to see a dusting of snow on the ground (or at least in the mountains) if you stay long enough.
While you won’t get to see as many of the natural sites, since the Blue Ridge Parkway closes in most sections in the winter, you’ll find less tourists and a better excuse to get inside to try out the many places to eat or drink. Since Asheville has the most breweries per capita than any other city in the US, definitely stop in at a brewery. We recommend Burial Brewing Co. in the winter because they have ample indoor space.
Explore downtown’s historical sites and beautiful cathedral to learn a bit more about the city’s history. If you love shopping, downtown has some wonderful, unique shops. Plus, the River Arts District is filled with the working studios of artists. Maybe you’ll find the perfect souvenir down there. If you’re there around Christmas time, or shortly after, the famous Biltmore House is decorated to the nines for this holidays with dozens and dozens of Christmas trees. You can even take candlelit tours at night with choirs serenading your visit. Even if you miss this, it’s still worth a visit. Want to get out of down and amp up your relaxation? Head up to the Grove Park Inn to relax in their beautiful spa. You’ll feel completely rejuvenated and ready for more exploring.
Recommended by Melissa of Parentood and Passports
Midway, Utah is a small town with a Swiss Alps feel. Nestled in a picturesque valley at the base of the Wasatch mountains, the quiet town is a unique winter destination.
Each winter, Midway hosts an acre-sized attraction made entirely from ice. Ice Castles, as it’s called, is a man-made experience complete with towers of frozen cascading waterfalls, ice-carved slides, fountains, crawl spaces, and maze-like tunnels that are all illuminated at night with color-changing lights.
After roaming through the icy wonderland, visitors can take a dip into the Homestead Crater, a warm, natural geothermal hot spring tucked inside a dome-shaped cave. End the night relaxing next to the fireplace at the Zermatt Resort. The Swiss lodge is complete with a European café and bakery and an outdoor carousel for kids that operates year-round when it is warm or sunny outside.
Midway is just 30 minutes from Park City and Deer Valley, so if you are looking for a more active way to spend the day, you are also close enough for a day trip to the slopes.
Recommended by Patti of The Savvy Globetrotter
While not everyone will agree, winter is a great time to visit Chicago. There are many incredible things to do in Chicago year round and one of the reasons to visit in the winter is that the popular attractions will be significantly less busy than they are the rest of the year. If find yourself in town on a warmer winter day or you can brave the cold, head outdoors to Millennium Park to take photos at Cloud Gate (the famous mirrored sculpture known as The Bean).
If you are not a fan of cold weather, stay warm by focusing on Chicago’s many indoor attractions. Chicago has many excellent and renowned museums including the Field Museum, Museum of Science and Industry and the Art Institute of Chicago. Other things to do on a cold winter day include watching a play, attending a comedy club, listening to music at a jazz club, enjoying the panoramic views from two of the tallest buildings in the world and dining at one of Chicago’s many excellent restaurants serving every type of cuisine. Make sure try a Chicago-style hot dog at Portillo’s and deep dish pizza at Giordano’s or Lou Malnati’s.
Park City, Utah
Recommended by Wendy Lee of Empty Nesters
Park City is a winter wonderland for sports enthusiasts and those looking to relax. It’s best known for its downhill skiing and snowboarding offered at several spots throughout the area. Among the most popular ski resorts are Deer Valley and Park City Mountain.
Not a skier? That’s alright because there are plenty of other activities in this charming mountain town. Summer hiking trails become snowshoe trails that weave around the town and deep into the surrounding forests. For cross country skiers, there are both tracks and trails offered at multiple places. Adrenaline junkies will enjoy the winter bobsled experience at Utah Olympic Park.
For visitors wanting more relaxation than activity, Park City also offers plenty of fun on its Main Street. Here there are dozens of art galleries, boutiques selling clothing, jewelry and gifts, and highly-rated restaurants. There is even an interactive museum exploring the city’s development and mining history. For the ultimate relaxation experience book a massage at one of the many spas in the city.
During peak winter season--December through March--this town is packed with visitors, so be sure to make hotel and restaurant reservations in advance. For dinner visitors can’t go wrong with Chimayo, Grappa, and The Farm. For after dinner entertainment there are bars, breweries, distilleries and even a theater along Main Street.
Anyone looking for an easily accessible, charming winter destination in the West, should definitely consider Park City, Utah.
Recommended by Amy of Two Drifters
If you're looking for a winter getaway in the USA, there's really no better option than the state of Vermont. Even though it's a small state, there are many beautiful places to go. In the winter though, I heartily recommend Stowe, Vermont.
You may have heard of Stowe Vermont. It's pretty well known as the home of the Von Trapp Family Lodge. The Von Trapps are the real life people that the film The Sound of Music is based on. After leaving Austria, they settled here in Vermont where are they said the mountains reminded them of their European home.
And in truth Vermont really does look a bit European. In the winter months, the Green Mountains are covered with a thick crust of snow. These become the havens of skiers, snowboarders, and snowshoers. But even those who are not fans of winter sports will love visiting Stowe. It is absolutely the cosiest mountain town with a charming Main Street, dozens of cozy restaurants serving unbelievable food, breweries, book stores, General stores, coffee shops, and of course a plethora of resorts & spas where you can stay.
We recommend either The Golden Eagle or The Stoweflake if you want to be close to town, or the Von Trapp Lodge for something more secluded, mountainy and romantic.
Recommended by Alejandra of Universo Viajero
Experiencing a winter in Colorado is one of the best ones you can have during this season in the United States. There are tons of ski resorts and activities to do around. Specifically, we love Breckenridge, a little town only 90 minutes away from Denver.
Breckenridge is a big ski center with more than 180 trails distributed on 5 different mountains. It’s perfect for all ski levels, from the ones that are just starting to learn the sport to the expert skiers that every season arrive to take the slops and slide through mountain more difficult trails.
Also, the town of Breckenridge is big enough to be home of lots of restaurants, shops and everything you might need to have a good time. You can even find escape rooms, a children museum about the mountain, dog sled trips and even an ice skating rink.
Unlike other ski resorts around the state of Colorado, Breckenridge has a lot to offer for solo travelers, families, groups of friends and everyone who visit the town. All surrounded by the amazing Rocky Mountains and a ski that has an average of 300 sunny days a year. If you are looking for a winter destination in the United States, then this one should definitely be in your list.
Yellowstone National Park
Recommended by Christine of Don’t Forget to Move
The United States has some incredible winter destinations, but our absolute favorite would have to be Yellowstone. This iconic destination is beautiful during every season, but winter in Yellowstone National Park is absolutely magical. There is nothing more majestic than watching a herd of bison standing peacefully in the middle of the road, as the snow falls down around them. You’ll never find yourself in a more serene traffic jam. In the winter you get the chance to take one of the national park’s snow coach vehicles to Old Faithful, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and other iconic spots. Or for the more adventurous travelers, you can book yourself on to a snowmobile tour and make your tracks on the fresh snow with your own snowmobile.
And don’t think that hikes are off limits just because there’s snow on the ground. With the right shoes, a snow hike is a once in a lifetime experience. There are fewer people on the trails and you have a higher likelihood of catching a glimpse of some rare wildlife. There are plenty of cabins to rent in the area where you can curl up in front of the fireplace with a hot chocolate and chat about the incredible things you saw in Yellowstone.
New York, New York
Recommended by Talek of Travels with Talek
New York City is exciting and electrifying any time of year but winter is special. Winter is when the city brings out its twinkling colored lights, giant Christmas trees and roasting chestnuts.
Fifth Avenue shines with its iconic window displays and the angels line the Rockefeller promenade leading to the skating rink. The traditional seasonal shows, Nutcracker Suite and The Rockettes in Radio City Music Hall are in full swing. If you're lucky, Central Park is covered with a dusting of fine, white snow. The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, the fifth largest church building in the world features its Christmas concerts with magnificent acoustics and Christmas markets pop up throughout the city. The holidays in New York City are a special time that should not be missed.
Recommended by Nina of Where in the World is Nina
No worries, get those thoughts of gloomy Oregon out of your mind, it’s not all grey skies and rain during the winter here. Bend is on the other side of the Cascade Mountains making this town a paradise, in winter or summer! Bend is dry and sunny year round, so when winter rolls through, there’s no bone chill and no dreary skies, although it IS cold, which makes it perfect for winter sports.
With mountains to climb, snowshoe, hike, ski, and snowboard just 30 minutes outside of town, there’s no boredom to be had. Mount Bachelor is one of the most popular mountains in the area to have fun at but the whole Cascade range is your playground.
The craft beer scene is one of the best in the country too, so be sure to reward yourself with plenty of fresh draft beer after the day is done.
Finger Lakes, New York
Recommended by Karen of WanderlustingK
The Finger Lakes in New York State is such a great winter destination! This wine destination is one of the premier destinations for white wine in the United States, especially for Riesling wine. This area is very prone to snow, so the roads are kept in quite good condition, making a winter trip quite feasible for those not afraid of a little snow. The rolling hills filled with grape plants look especially magical when covered in the snow. Given that fall and summer is peak season for this region, you'll be able to enjoy this gorgeous region without the crowds.
Given the many wineries in this region, it’s best to choose which lake to focus your trip on and to choose a designated driver to help out. Keuka Lake is my favorite as you can visit Dr. Konstantin Frank’s winery, who is credited for creating grape varieties that can survive the harsher winter here. Beyond the wine, you’ll find Ithaca. The city is full of charming boutiques, great eateries, and beautiful houses. (Lovers of architecture will love Cornell University's picturesque campus, which has gorges.) During the winter, it's still possible to view the nearby waterfalls, including Taughannock Falls, which can freeze in winter for a beautiful effect. You can still go hiking despite the cold.
Recommended by Emily, Em’s on the Road
With over 100 inches of powdery snow every winter, I had to include my new home of Marquette in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. With tons of hiking, biking, and cross country skiing trails this place is an outdoor enthusiast’s playground even in the winter. With longer and darker nights there’s a good chance you can even see the Northern Lights. There are literally trails all around town, one of our favorite places to hike with the dogs is Harlow Lake (pictured). If you want to try fat biking, there are over 60 miles of groomed trails in Marquette. As for skiing, there are miles of cross country trails around town and a downhill mountain as well.
Once you’ve had your fill outside, head to town and enjoy a quirky college town with a variety of restaurants, shops, bars, and more. Get a cold beer at Blackrocks Brewery and stay cozy in one of their igloos or get a bit to eat at a local favorite, the Portside Inn. They’re known for massive portions, great sandwiches, pizza, and all Michigan beer on tap. Our go-to is the giant Skachata, a flat Italian sandwich on house baked bread; plenty for two people. Stay in the heart of downtown at the historic Landmark Inn complete with a rooftop pub and beautiful views of the city and lake.